SEXTANT by Maya Merrick (Conundrum), 256 pages, $14.95 paper. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Initially, you're drawn to the gorgeous red and pink illustration on the cover of this pocket-sized novel.
You might take a chance on new writer Maya Merrick simply because Sextant is a steal at just $14.95 in both Canada and the U.S.
But the weighty life story of bossy-boots narrator Cassy Peerson will suck you in from the get-go and keep you rolling with every punch and peering through the windshield of the 57 Chevy she calls home or into the mermaid tank she swims in for work. You won't be able to turn the pages fast enough to find out what gin-soaked danger she'll narrowly escape this time.
Forget what you know about teen girl coming-of-age stories. Merrick wisely steers clear of Go Ask Alice territory, though similar thematic elements crop up: addiction, abuse, betrayal by adults. She trades heavy-handed dramatics and moralizing for poised prose and snappy dialogue. This is Cassy's story to tell in breathless gulps and long-winded one-sided conversations with an imaginary friend called Head, a papier m&âché skull.
While Cassy tries to unravel the mystery of traumatic childhood memories suppressed and blurred by time, Merrick allows the sadness and desperation of circumstance to mix with joy, hope and determination.
Cassy, a tough kid who's had little to no adult supervision, cultivates her imagination and the smarts to take care of herself. Merrick's first-person paragraphs are heavy with sarcasm and sexy determination. A feminine machismo permeates a story told in drunken anecdotes and morning-after puzzle pieces.
Sextant's writing is addictive and original. Extra points to the innovative folks running Montreal's Conundrum Press for their continuing use of vivid design and illustration, and for picking up a stellar manuscript from their local barmaid.
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